Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dystopian Bias

Judge Dredd Writer: My Nightmare Vision Of A State Gone Mad Has Come True (from Sunday Herald)
"It's not funny anymore. I find it hard to write Judge Dredd now, I really do."

...Grant and Wagner would read tabloid newspapers to find social trends such as youth gangs, unemployment, overcrowding and neighbour rage that they exaggerated and placed into the future.

"It's pretty horrific when you realise that what you've written, admittedly an extrapolation of a trend, has got stronger and stronger," said Grant. Going to Glasgow airport and seeing police officers armed Judge Dredd-style confirmed to Grant the state of society. "We are living in a dystopia, and pessimistically I can only see it getting worse. I think the world that we, and I include myself, are bequeathing to our grandchildren, is a horrible, horrible place."

(caveat: I read a lot of Sci-Fi.) I have to agree with Grant that our society resembles more closely the dystopias that early generations imagined than it does the utopias - but that's because there's very few utopias involving humans in Sci-Fi. Indeed, the numbers of dystopias massively outweighs and has always outweighed the utopias in all forms of writing, from Asimov to Borges to Corinthians. The elements where writers have conceived of positive things has been in man's innovations, which our current society excels in - the do-all terminal of Ian Banks' Culture novels, touch-screens, consumer-led location and organisational systems. Yes; the sh*tty bits of Britain have got no better and we're more aware than ever of those crapulences; but we're more aware because, firstly, we focus on the negative more than ever in the media and, secondly, Grant originally sourced those story ideas from the press - indicating they were a problem at that time too!


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3 comments:

elle said...

I agree that we tend to focus more on the bad things anyway, even when good stuff is happening. Bad stuff is more newsworthy – “kids rioting in shopping mall” is for some reason more interesting than “kids signing up for vocational apprenticeships”.

Also, because of this bias, is it easier to write a convincing dystopia than it is a utopia? Is Brave New World more convincing than Island? Or just more memorable because it’s scarier?

elle said...

An aside on sci-fi presaging innovative technology – my mate’s PhD involves 3D printing from a CAD file, using injected plastics. Matter compilers here we come!

quietlybreathing said...

Very interesting Dan. Utopias defy human nature. I think that’s why I don’t like Star Trek. It’s too clean and neat and calm and devoid of emotion. Any novelist that thinks up a fantastical world in the future and populates it with believable human characters will have necessarily created a dystopia. (By dystopia I think I’m meaning a world that isn’t perfect, not necessarily an extreme world. So I suppose I agree with Grant to some extent.)

But I can’t believe all this stuff about life seeming/being worse than it always has. Yes, the media focuses on bad news. (I agree that bad news is always more interesting than good news. My boss loves nothing better. Schmaltzy love songs sound smug, but you can identify with painful ones, man.) The fact media has a global reach makes us feel the pressure of all this shit stuff happening everywhere. (Here’s an antedote - http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/ )

But I can’t believe that people have ever felt any different. So my ancestors were living peaceful bucolic existences 200 years ago and everything was rosy? No, I’m sure everything felt shit – people’s children dying from preventable diseases, the vagaries of the weather destroying crops, livestock succumbing to damp foot, or whatever kills them off. We would’ve known less about what was happening in London, let alone other countries, than today, but I don’t think a narrower world view necessarily would have made us more happy. Although maybe grubbing around in the mud all day would have.